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Golf at Daytona Beach

Just about everyone knows that Daytona Beach is the home of both the International Speedway’s Daytona 500 and one of the most famous beaches in the world. Not everyone knows that Daytona Beach is one of the “Top 15 Places” in the nation to play golf, according to Golf Digest, because of its Stay-and-Play packages at the more than 20 semi-private and public courses within its boundaries.

While the 23 miles of sandy, white beaches have been nicknamed “The Original American Beach,” the city of Daytona Beach—located just off I-95 on the Sunshine State’s central Atlantic coast about an hour from Disney World, Universal, and Orlando—provides the archetypal Florida vacation: lots of sun and mild weather, delightful seafood restaurants, lively nightspots, shopping malls and flea markets, a host of cultural and historic activities, modern convention facilities, and superior lodging on and off the ocean.

Homewood Suites Stay-and-Play Packages

Daytona Beach is one of the most affordable golf destinations anywhere in the country, and the Stay-and-Play packages include many hotels on the beach and around the town. I opted for the hospitality of the newly renovated Homewood Suites Speedway-Airport hotel. One mile off I-95 Exit 261A, across the street from the Speedway, and six miles from the beach, the Homewood Suites’ location affords easy access to malls, restaurants, local attractions, and, most importantly, the nearby golf courses. Also, it has earned the 2017 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award.

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Riviera Country Club is a classic Florida layout that is easy to navigate and fun to play.

The hotel suites contain separate living and sleeping rooms, both with flat-screen TV’s, a fully equipped kitchen, and internet access. A complimentary, hearty hot breakfast begins each morning, and a complimentary Evening Social with beer, wine, and “small plate” dinners begins each evening from Monday through Thursday.

My host at Homewood Suites was Pat Sullivan, a member of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), and the “Go-Tour Guy” for securing the best golf packages at the best prices. For example, he can offer lodging and guaranteed tee times on eight layouts for as little as $99 per person, per day, double occupancy.

Riviera and Indigo Lakes

And these layouts are challenging and fun for golfers of all abilities. A local favorite is the family-owned Riviera Country Club, a classic, old-style Florida course that opened in 1953 but received a notable facelift from architect Lloyd Clifton, a Sunshine State legend. The Meyers clan keeps the Bermuda fairways lush, the Bermuda greens pleasingly fast and true, and the rest of the course in admirable condition. It is the home of the longest running mini-tour event in the country, the Riviera Open. The par-71 has three sets of tees and doesn’t require the long ball at 6,250 to 6,004 to 5,121 yards. “The Riv,” as it’s called, is a perfect way to begin the golf vacation and work out the kinks.

Indigo Lakes Golf Club is another Lloyd Clifton effort and another popular venue. The practice facilities are excellent, and the staff is friendly and helpful. Water does not come into play too much, but the variety of holes, including a handful of doglegs, keeps the interest level high. Five sets of tees from 7,105 yards to the middle 6,207 to the forward 5,194 provide options for everyone, and the 18 holes are usually completed in no more than four hours.

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The par-5 eighth on the Hills Course at PGA International shows the water and sand hazards that are representative of the Hills challenge to score low.

Pelican Bay and Daytona Beach Golf and Country Club

The North and South courses at The Club at Pelican Bay are both well maintained, have renovated greenside bunkers, and provide 36 holes of superior golf. A two-time Champions Tour setting, the North, designed by Bill Amick, another well respected Florida architect, is known for its long, demanding holes, elevated tee boxes, use of waterways, and stately pines and cedars that frame the fairways. Its five tees range from 6,836 yards to 6,050 to 5,319. The South—Lloyd Clifton gets the credit again—is much shorter with three sets of tees at 6,385 yards from the tips, 6,017 from the middle, and 5,135 from the forward tees. Water is a major hazard here as it comes into play on 15 holes, and there are five forced carries as well.

Another set of North and South courses are attached to the Daytona Beach Golf and Country Club. These two venerable courses, the North opened in 1946 and the South in 1921, have been renovated and are known for their playability and classic design. By today’s standards, they are both shorter tracks. The North has four sets of tees with the tips at 6,338 yards and 400 yards difference in the next two sets to the 4,971 yards of the forwards. The South with three tees range from 6,229 yards to 5,950 to 5856. The North sports redone greens, bunkers, and tees, and the fairways wend their way through the native oak and pine and in between water hazards. The greens are undulating and require a deft touch to negotiate. What makes the South a “must play” is that it is a prototypical Donald Ross. His original design has been left largely intact, although modern course improvements have obviously taken place. The fairways are wide enough, but the second shots and approaches are demanding if you want to get the ball close to the pin. Around the greens, keeping the ball “on the ground,” the old-fashioned technique, seems to be the key to lower scores.

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Playing through the sand hill cranes at Volusia County’s Best Golf Course, Cypress Head.

LPGA International—Where the Pros Play

The final two layouts of the Homewood Suites repertoire belong to LPGA International, the main golf facility used by the Ladies Professional Golf Association and the home of the corporate offices. Both championship courses, one designed by Rees Jones and the other by Arthur Hills, are immaculately kept and offer two of the best tests in the state, according to Golf Digest magazine. Both have five sets of tees that approach 7,000 yards from the tips to 6,300 in the middle sets to 5,150 at the forwards. The practice area, which is open to all players, is just what you would expect for professionals who want to work on all aspects of their skills, from full shots to the short game. In addition, Malcolm’s is one of the newest restaurants in Daytona and one of the most highly regarded.

The Jones Course opened in 1994 and is a favorite of the touring pros. With his strategic mounding around fairways and green complexes and his strategic use of sand bunkers, Jones planned his 18 holes through the natural marsh areas and the many lakes on the property. His large, rolling greens certainly add to the difficulty factor. The Jones is closed through September for extensive renovations. The Hills Course opened in 1998 and is the ideal complement to the Jones. The greens are relatively small and level with few abrupt undulations, but the fairways are generous enough if you can keep the ball in between the recurring pine tree corridors. Water hazards and natural wetlands require well-placed irons if you want to avoid the penalties. Both courses should not be missed on any golf trip to Daytona Beach.

Cypress Head and Rave Reviews

A final course that is most worthy of discussion is Cypress Head Golf Club, a muni owned by the City of Port Orange and about a half-hour drive from the Homewood Suites. Another Arthur Hills design, it opened in 1992 and was painstakingly restored two years ago, re-opening in November 2015. The fair but fun-to-play layout has been consistently voted as the “Best Golf Course” in Volusia County by the Daytona Beach News Journal readers. The course is in pristine condition from tees to fairways to greens, and it is maintained in a manner similar to area private clubs and resort courses—but with most reasonable rates. Five tee boxes from 6,805 yards to 5,775 in the middle to 4,814 at the forwards provide plenty of possibilities. Cypress Head is well worth the trip.

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The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse & Museum is one of the many worthwhile side trips that the Daytona Beach area has to offer.

Diversions Galore Après Golf

Also well worth the trip would be several excursions around town during golf down time. A tour of the International Speedway and its Motorsports Hall of Fame is always in style. The Richard Petty Driving Experience provides the ultimate dare for thrill seekers as you can take the NASCAR Ride Along with a professional racing instructor as he climbs to top speeds around the 2.5-mile track. Another ride, though a lot less stressful, is on a pontoon boat tour from Cracker Creek to nearby Spruce Creek, and the beer-and-wine Sunset Cruise is a relaxing way to end the day.

If beer is your libation of choice, you’ll want to visit any one or two of the 15 local breweries on the Daytona Beach Ale Trail. If it’s beer and hotdogs you like, then, in season, you can visit historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the home of the Daytona Tortugas, a Class A team of the Cincinnati Reds.

Finally, no visit to Daytona would be complete, even for the most inveterate golfer, without an outing at the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse & Museum. AT 175 feet tall, it is the second-tallest lighthouse in the U.S., and the 203 steps to the top reveal a unique vista of the entire Daytona Beach area. Within walking distance is the Marine Science Center and among its exhibits are stingray petting pools, sea turtles, sea birds, and Nina, the friendly octopus, who shows the patrons just how smart she is.

Well, that’s Daytona Beach on a quick virtual tour. Sooner rather than later would be a good time to really start your engines, travel to this paradisiacal realm, and enjoy all the great golf and activities that are there for the taking.

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